Your email address is worth more than your phone number to most companies as they can bombard you with emails on a daily basis to get you to buy from them. Nowadays, technology is far more advanced that companies are driving, retaining and analyzing data of every you move you make in order to drive up sales which is through the use of your electronics. Advertising is certainly not like the way it used to be and we have quickly step into a world where companies are targeting your profile which raises a lot of questions such as our privacy. Director Scott Harper brings you the film You’re Soaking In It which recently premiered at this year’s Hot Docs International Documentary Film Festival. In case you missed it, you will get another chance to watch this inquiring film on the documentary channel where you will see how the internet has allowed companies and corporate giants to know you better than you know yourself. FERNTV caught up with director Scott Harper to discuss how Mad Men have become Math Men in this documentary You’re Soaking In It.
FERNTV: What was the inspiration to do this film?
Scott: We had planned to do a very different film. We were thinking of a character driven piece about a real life Don Draper … but as we searched for that character we stumbled on this larger story about a major revolution in the business. Math Men had become the new Mad Men…big data seemed to have taken creative control…and the tools of the trade were much less about inspired ideas and more about following our every move online, trying to create digital models of us to market in a very invasive, even creepy way. It was a much darker narrative than we had in mind..but it seemed like an obvious choice for a great story. One day I’ll make one that is pure fun. But not this time!
FERNTV: Tell us about the experience of doing the research for the film?
Scott: Long! Trying to get some of these heavy hitters from the industry, new school and old, took lots of pitching, cajoling and diplomacy on our behalf. And tons of patience. The stories were out there….but we needed the right people to be the voice of them. We aimed for the top – whether on Madison Avenue or in Silicon Valley. In both of those places, once we were able to convince one major company to take part, the rest seemed to feel like they also wanted to have their say…or who knows, maybe not get left out. I think we were timely, patient and a bit lucky. Trying to get Google or Facebook to give candid interviews now seems like it might be harder.
FERNTV: What fact did you find about advertising most shocking?
Scott: Facial recognition technology is pretty freaky. The idea that a billboard can recognize your face and alter its ad and message to target you personally is pretty bold. That and the psychological profiling that brands and agencies do now to try and guess what you’re going to do, want, and buy before you have even thought of it. That’s not the small town Ontario I grew up in!
FERNTV: What were some of the challenges in making this film?
Scott: It’s a huge, complex subject and we wanted to paint a picture of a whole business in transition…one that affects all of us. That is taking a very large bite…and it means doing a lot of homework to make sure you’re being responsible and not just alarmist. The other big hurdle was trying to convince huge companies like WPP, Publicis, Google, Facebook etc. to give us the time of day. They didn’t have to.
FERNTV: Tell us how long it took to make this documentary?
Scott: A year to sell and finance. Another to make it.
FERNTV: Do you feel that it is the technology that is responsible for getting us data or is it the advertisers or is it a combination of both?
Scott: Combo. Advertisers were forced to follow their audiences online as they fragmented away from traditional media…the tech made it possible to find them.
FERNTV: Can you comment on the future of advertising.
Scott: One of the guys in the doc makes a great point about people growing weary of being tracked, targeted and profiled and that eventually we’ll see a return to great ideas leading the ad biz instead. I hope he is right. Maybe this is just a moment – a crazy moment, in time. Data driven ads are full or promise, for sure, but so far it’s inconclusive as to whether they really work as well as their proponents say they do.
On the other hand, I’d also say that for many people privacy is actually not a huge issue, which I find surprising. They’d rather have the convenience that comes with having their data used to help them connect with things they do really want. So unless there is a major objection to how the internet gets paid for, which is this kind of programatic advertising we’re talking about in the doc, I can see this trend continuing for a while.
FERNTV: How did it feel to be part of Hot Docs this year and tell us about future projects?
Scott: Thrilled. Always wanted to be a part of that excellent fest since I started making docs. Great group running it, wicked films everywhere, audiences are amazing…and a real privilege to be asked to join in the fun. Next doc is about our love of all things cars, set in the context of a fast approaching driverless future.